Nationalism and Classicism: The Classical Body As National Symbol in Nineteenth-Century England and France

Nationalism and Classicism: The Classical Body As National Symbol in Nineteenth-Century England and France

Athena S. Leoussi

Language: English

Pages: 260

ISBN: 0312177763

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


This is a comparative study of the national significance of the classical revival which marked English and French art during the second half of the 19th century. It argues that the main focus of artists' interest in classical Greece, was the body of the Greek athlete. It explains this interest, first, by artists' contact with the art of Pheidias and Polycletus which portrayed it; and second, by the claim, made by physical anthropologists, that the classical body typified the race of the European nations.

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or more specifically Hellenism, proceeded will show how scientific ideas contributed to the emergence of the Greek athletic body in aesthetic theory and artistic practice. POSITIVISM AND ROMANTICISM Throughout the century scientists are found to be pronouncing on aesthetic matters and artists to be seeking a scientific basis for their work. The idea that the Greek body was objectively beautiful and would be universally accepted as such if only it were seen, was not shared by all scientists.

Arnold too, stressed the complementary status of the Aryan and Semitic cultures. He saw Hebraism and Hellenism as the means to self-knowledge55 and self-perfection which was God's aim for man - 'the Divine Injunction "Be ye Perfect'".56 They were 'the most signal and splendid manifestations' of mankind's 'forces'. Following Aryanist distinctions, Arnold saw man as having two sides:57 one was his need for aesthetic pleasure and understanding, the other his sense of obligation to other men and to

culture; she was the land uncorrupted by any Roman or other mixture; the birthplace of the most moral races of men that the world has yet seen - of the soundest laws - the least violent passions and the fairest domestic and other virtues.21 The rise of Hellenism in English culture and society during the second half of the nineteenth century was partly due to the acceptance of the racial theories of the 1850s. These comprised the theory of the Anglo-Saxon race, and the by now established theory of

secular education in order 'to raise the race'.56 Writing in 1836, he explained his own advocacy of gymnastics: Ancient Greece might be cited in confirmation of this ... the people of that country were, as a nation, physically and intellectually the most perfect of the human race; and there is reason to believe that their unrivalled attention to Physical education was highly influential in producing the result.57 Charles Kingsley considered separately the modern urban woman. On the basis of the

whose interests had dominated art in England for some ten years, lost one of its leading supporters. In fact, the demise of Pre-Raphaelitism as it was originally conceived almost exactly coincides with Prince Albert's death. In 1859 Rossetti painted Bocca Baciata, which is generally recognised as marking the beginning of a new, more 'fleshly' phase of the movement.3 In addition, mid-century racial ideas brought a change in social beliefs. As Patrick Conner has pointed out, it was towards the end

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